“You cannot serve God and wealth,” said Jesus.
It seems Jesus was talking to people who wanted it both ways. Do we want it both ways? What would it look like if we were trying to serve both God and wealth?
In the Bible, Pharaoh is maybe the ultimate servant of wealth. He had the most, but his dreams were full of anxiety about not having enough food. He wanted what others had, and he took it, seizing peasants’ land and its produce and enslaving people. This is the prelude to the Exodus, when God called Moses to confront Pharaoh and liberate the enslaved Israelites.
But guess what? The same and fear of not having enough food followed Israel into the wilderness! But in that place of risk and vulnerability was both freedom and surprising abundance. Community instead of competition. Israel discovered another way to live, trusting God’s kingdom instead of Pharaoh's empire.
In what areas of life does the fear of not having enough drive you to think and act compulsively? Your awareness is your greatest asset. What would active trust in God look like? Invite Jesus into the conversation.
Ten years ago, there was another “Churchwide Assembly,” like the one last month when Lutherans debated, voted, and passed the sanctuary church declaration. Back in 2009, the ELCA changed its policies and allowed for the ordination of married gay clergy.
I celebrated that 2009 decision. Before it, I advocated for a similar outcome and even participated in civil disobedience at the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. I did so out of love and loyalty to gay brothers and sisters in Christ who both survived and died by suicide, who lived in painful “closets” or on the street after parents threw them out, whose calls to ministry were denied and denigrated.
But as an intern-pastor in Bradenton, Florida, I was afraid to name this love and loyalty in the bible studies I myself led, the very studies published to help the church discern before the 2005 Churchwide Assembly. I now regret this silence. I failed to trust the people I served. I was afraid to be known.
At St. Paul, as we discuss the sanctuary decision and always, I want to create shelter and protection that invites all of us out of hiding and into loving community with God. Voicing fully our love and loyalties, we also invite each other to deeper love and wider loyalty.
“Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost,” said the woman in Jesus’ parable.
Luke offers three parables in a row of losing, searching, and finding. On the surface, they’re about God’s extravagant love. What a comfort to know how far God goes for us!
But what about when God seeks people we’re convinced aren’t worth it? Will we rejoice to be left alone with the 99 and even lost? Gladly go without meals or clean clothes for a week? Because that’s the flip side of this found coin.
On another level, these parables are maps. Failure, humiliation, and loss are part of life. In fact, much more suffering comes by trying to avoid suffering! Father Richard Rohr says, “So we must stumble and fall, I’m sorry to say.”
And stumbling and falling is the way home. We find we survive stumbling and falling. And more, we grow. What grace! We may not regain what we lost, but we do discover a new self. Stronger, more flexible, more generous.
What losses taught you the most or gave you the most to offer others? Ask Jesus to find you in your suffering and bring your home.
After worship Sunday, August 25, 15 St. Paul people gathered to be blessed conversation partners. Grounded in Philippians 2:1-11, we gave and received what was in our hearts and guts about the ELCA’s declaration that it’s a “sanctuary church body.”
Most, if not all, shared the same question: “What does this mean? What do we mean by ‘sanctuary’?”
This core question led us to others. If sanctuary is about shelter and sharing, how effective are St. Paul’s and other local ministries with hungry and homeless people? How do other organizations and movements define ‘sanctuary’? What is the ELCA (including congregations, synods, and related service organizations) already doing to serve migrants and immigrants? What can we learn from the Lutheran World Federation? Who are our local recent-immigrant neighbors? What are their gifts and needs? What are local schools, the Sisters of St. Francis, or other neighbors doing?
Tolerating the ambiguity of all these questions—and all the emotions surrounding them—wasn’t easy for everyone, myself foremost. But it’s what we committed to do. We trusted each other. We trusted God. In the end, we were grateful, even if we still are feeling our way in the dark.
Read: Consider these “talking points” about the declaration. https://download.elca.org/…/ELCA_SanctuaryDenomination_Talk…
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple,” Jesus said.
This is a call story. Jesus calls settled people. People happily and religiously established. People secure in their families, occupations, identities, communities, and faith.
Jesus calls them beyond. As if there is more to life. Another journey. Jesus is eager to show everyone the way, whenever we’re truly ready.
Consider communion. First, we bake the bread. Then, we break it and share it. First, we fill the cup. Then, we pour it out for others.
As we complete the first journey, Jesus calls us on the second. Then, we discover that what we built for ourselves, God intends for the world. In losing--Jesus promises--we gain.
Can you allow this? Are you ready to ask Jesus to loosen your grip on what is well and truly yours? Jesus does not ask you to give up what you have not yet completed. Nor does Jesus mock you for not yet finishing. There is a just order to things. Thank God for that.
“Am I right to feel afraid?” I ask myself this question sometimes. Often the automatic physiological fear-responses of my body—adrenaline, heightened senses, sweat, increased heart rate—are out of sync with the real danger. Overreacting is the greater danger. So I calm myself, as gently as I’m able.
Other times, I ask myself, “Am I right to feel angry?”
These questions refocus me on reality and morality. What are the facts? Do I have a moral claim to my fear or anger?
The cross warns: humans do great evil when we bless our fear and anger and do violence in the name of peace or the law or God almighty. We may “save” our lives or even “gain” the whole world but we lose our very souls. Thank God, Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
Attending to fear and anger can, in all truth, help us sort our soul from our idolatries. But that takes care, prayer, and a healthy suspicion of what our feelings seem to tell us.
Practically speaking, we need conversation partners who give us grace without stroking our egos. What a blessing these people are! Blessed are we when we heed them!
“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind,” Jesus said.
Is Jesus asking us to expand our social circles? Seems so. More, Jesus exposed the games this host and his guests were playing. Who is more important than who? Busiest? Most successful? Closest to wealth and power? Status games.
In church, status takes a different twist. Who is more generous? More compassionate? Longest-tenured? Longest-suffering? On the most committees? Closest to the pastor?
“There’s more to life,” Jesus says. Who are we without our status symbols, our social position, our place in the family? Without the real advantages, material and relational, that come with them? That’s our soul. Our essence, which flows and rests within God’s essence.
What a tragedy never to know that essence, and so, to treat other people and our very selves as “its,” things, means to an end, worthless apart from winning the game.
Who could or would you develop authentic relationship with if you were free not to need the approval and esteem of your group? Ask Jesus to show you the way to your soul.